The Number of Blacks Earning Bachelor’s Degrees Is At an All-Time High

According to the U.S. Department of Education, in the year 2005 blacks earned 136,122 four-year bachelor’s degrees from American colleges and universities. The number of blacks earning bachelor’s degrees increased nearly 4 percent from the previous year. In that year the number of African Americans earning bachelor’s degrees reached the highest level in this nation’s history. It was more than double the number of bachelor’s degrees earned by blacks in 1990.

The large increase in bachelor’s degrees earned by blacks is encouraging, but the other side of the news is that only about two out of every five black students who enroll as freshmen in college go on to graduate within six years from the same institution they entered. Blacks are now nearly 12 percent of total enrollments in higher education, but in the 2005 academic year they earned only 9.5 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded.

But note that this figure too measures considerable progress. As recently as 1985 blacks earned only 5.9 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded in the United States.


“They used to say on the block that Harvard has ruined more Negroes than bad whiskey, and there’s something to that. Harvard’s got a white supremacist legacy. It’s got a male supremacist legacy. It’s got an anti-Semitic legacy and a homophobic legacy.”

Cornel West, Class of 1943 University Professor of Religion at Princeton University, on the Tavis Smiley show on PBS, September 18, 2007. Reports indicate that Professor West recently declined an offer to return to the Harvard faculty.


University of Arkansas Reports Gain in Black Enrollments, But It Still Has a Long Way to Go to Reach Racial Parity

The flagship campus of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville reports that there are 1,023 black undergraduate and graduate students on campus this fall. This is an increase of 8 percent from a year ago and is the largest number of black students in a decade. There are 140 black students in the freshman class, up 29 percent from a year ago, and it is the highest number since 2002.

But blacks are still only 5.5 percent of all students on the University of Arkansas campus. African Americans make up 16 percent of the population of the state.

Recently the University of Arkansas held ceremonies commemorating the 1948 racial integration of the law school and the medical school. In a panel discussion, George W.B. Haley, the brother of Roots author Alex Haley, recalled what it was like for the first black students at the law school: “We had a separate study room. We could not sit down in the library. White students complained about us using the student restrooms. We used the dean’s private restroom but that resulted in some of us getting detention. All of us lived in the city at that time. And we decided we would not go to the restroom during the day. Each afternoon you could see us running to get home.”


A Boost in Available Financial Aid Made the Difference in Increasing Black First-Year Enrollments at the University of Kentucky

In 2005 black first-year enrollments at the University of Kentucky dropped by 44 percent. Black students, black faculty, and African-American members of the state legislature demanded that action be taken to increase racial diversity on campus. A task force was created to examine why black enrollments had dropped off.

It was presumed that black students were avoiding the University of Kentucky because of a perceived hostile racial environment on campus. But university officials did their homework. They contacted scores of black students who had been accepted to the university but enrolled elsewhere to see why they had chosen other schools. Only a handful of black students said the campus climate was a factor. The overwhelming reason that black students didn’t enroll was because they received more attractive financial aid awards at other institutions.

The University of Kentucky responded by infusing more money into its Diversity Scholarship program. These grants are available to minority and low-income students. In 2006 black first-year enrollments doubled to 296.

This year there are 260 black freshmen on campus. But the drop in the number of black students is largely attributed to an overall drop in first-year enrollments. Blacks make up 6.6 percent of the entering class. African Americans make up 7 percent of the population in Kentucky.



New College Library to Honor African-American Couple

LaGrange College, a four-year liberal arts institution in LaGrange, Georgia, has announced plans to construct a new 45,000-square-foot, three-story library on campus at a cost of $20 million. The building will be named the Frank and Laura Lewis Library.

Frank Lewis, who died last year, was the first black faculty member at LaGrange College. He was the director of the current Banks Library on campus for 22 years. His wife Laura, who died in 2003, worked in the admissions office at the college and was a librarian at a city library. The new library is scheduled to open in 2009.

Blacks make up more than 20 percent of the 1,200 students at LaGrange College.


Restoration Efforts at Historically Black Southern University in New Orleans Proceeding at a Snail’s Pace

In the previous issue of the JBHE Weekly Bulletin, we reported that the Carnegie Corporation issued grants of $6 million to help in the recovery of Dillard and Xavier universities, two historically black educational institutions that were seriously damaged by floodwaters after Hurricane Katrina struck the city in August 2005.

But very little has been done to restore the campus of Southern University in New Orleans, a predominantly black state-operated educational institution. Water-soaked books remain on the shelves of the university’s library. Classes are still held in a city of 45 trailers situated miles north of the campus. Officials at the university fear that white state legislators in Baton Rouge are dragging their feet and delaying restoration in the hope that the university can be permanently closed.

Despite the slow progress in restoring the campus, university officials report that enrollments are up 14 percent this fall.


New Organization of Black Women Philosophers to Meet in Nashville

Although no official data has been tabulated, the Committee on Blacks and Philosophy of the American Philosophical Association estimates that there are about 100 black philosophers among the 10,000 members of the organization. Twenty to 30 of these are women.

The first meeting of the Collegium of Black Women Philosophers will take place at Vanderbilt University later this month. The keynote address will be given by Anita L. Allen, Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law and professor of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Professor Allen also holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Michigan. The conference will also honor Joyce Mitchell Cook, who in 1965 was the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy.

For more information on the conference, click here.


Central State University Making Progress on Its Goal to Triple Enrollments

Central State University, the historically black state-operated educational institution in Wilberforce, Ohio, has seen its second straight year of enrollment growth. There are currently 2,022 students enrolled, an increase of 14 percent from a year ago. This follows an 8 percent rise in enrollments from 2005 to 2006.

Over the next decade, Central State wants to triple its enrollment in order to wean itself from an annual $11 million state appropriation which subsidizes its operating costs. In order to boost enrollments, Central State is targeting community college students who want to transfer to a four-year university.




Wilford Taylor Jr., a judge for the circuit court in Hampton, Virginia, received the St. George Tucker Adjunct Professor Award from the College of William and Mary School of Law. The award recognizes the law school’s outstanding adjunct professor.

Judge Taylor is a graduate of Hampton University and earned his law degree at William and Mary.



Florida A&M University received a $273,348 grant from the U.S. Department of Education for its Upward Bound program in mathematics and science.

Jackson State University, the historically black educational institution in Mississippi, received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The grant will be used to fund scholarships for students in science, mathematics, and engineering.

Morgan State University, the historically black educational institution in Baltimore, received a $1 million donation from Calvin E. Tyler Jr., a retired executive of the United Parcel Service. The funds will be used to endow a need-based scholarship fund for Morgan State students.

Tuskegee University, the historically black educational institution in Alabama, and the University of California at Davis will share in a five-year, $3.1 million grant that will fund a bridge program between the two institutions. Students who are studying for a master’s degree in plant sciences, biotechnology, and engineering at Tuskegee will receive assistance including internship opportunities that will enable them to transfer to the University of California at Davis to pursue their doctorates.

Hampton University, the historically black educational institution in Virginia, received a $425,000 grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation. The grant will fund an undergraduate program in genomics and bioinformatics, combining the study of biology with mathematics and computer science.


Howard University Names Two Esteemed African Americans to Head Its Presidential Search Committee

H. Patrick Swygert, president of Howard University, previously announced his retirement, effective at the end of the current academic year. Now the university has named former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons as co-chairs of its presidential search committee.

Among the 16 members of the search committee are former congressman and vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, Vernon E. Jordan, managing director of Lazard Freres, publisher Earl Graves, and several members of the Howard University faculty including economist Charles L. Betsey, artist Starmanda Bullock, and professor of surgery LaSalle Leffall Jr.

Ruth Simmons, president of Brown University, will act as a special adviser to the committee.


Black Students Are Not as Prepared as White Students for the Type of Questions Found on the SAT Test

A major reason for the SAT racial gap may in large part be because black students who take the SAT have not followed the same academic track as white students. It is true that 97 percent of both blacks and whites who take the SAT have studied algebra in high school. But in higher level mathematics courses such as trigonometry and calculus, whites hold a very large lead. In 2007, 46 percent of white SAT test takers had taken trigonometry in high school compared to 34 percent of black test takers. Some 31 percent of white test takers had taken calculus in high school. Only 15 percent of black students had taken calculus, less than one half as many as whites. Thirty-five percent of white SAT test takers had taken honors courses in mathematics compared to 21 percent of black SAT test takers.

Similar discrepancies appear in the level of instruction in English, the other major component of the SAT. Some 91 percent of white test takers had completed coursework in American literature compared to 83 percent of black test takers. For whites, 69 percent had taken high school courses in composition compared to 57 percent of blacks. A full 43 percent of all white test takers had completed honors courses in English compared to 31 percent of black test takers.

Also, whites are far more likely than blacks to have taken honors courses in science and social studies. Given the huge differences in course study between black and white high school students, it comes as no surprise that white SAT scores are significantly higher than black SAT scores. Whites, who are more likely to attend high-quality schools, have simply achieved a greater mastery of the subject matter than have blacks.



Reginald S. Avery Named President of Coppin State University

Coppin State University, the historically black educational institution in Baltimore, has announced the appointment of Reginald S. Avery as president. Dr. Avery is currently executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of South Carolina Upstate in Spartensburg.

Dr. Avery is a graduate of North Carolina A&T State University. He holds a master’s degree in social work from Aurora University and a Ph.D. in social policy and management from Brandeis University. He will assume his duties as president of Coppin State University in January.


Law Firm Establishes “Diversity Scholarship” at the University of Tennessee College of Law

The law firm of Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs has established a full scholarship for one student at the University of Tennessee College of Law. The scholarship will be given every three years to an entering student, with preference given to residents of Tennessee or Kentucky. In addition, a recipient who will “add to the diversity of the student body” will be selected.

The first recipient of the scholarship is Michelle Quinn, an African American who graduated in 2006 from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She has spent the last year working at a law firm in Knoxville.

Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs employs 200 attorneys in offices in Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Mississippi, and Colorado.


Settlement Dollars From Mississippi’s Higher Education Desegregation Case Are Flowing Slowly to the State’s Three Black Universities

In 2002 the state of Mississippi agreed to settle a lawsuit, first filed in 1975, which called for greater efforts to desegregate the state’s system of higher education. Under the agreement, the state agreed to allocate $503 million to upgrade faculties, academic programs, and the endowments of the state’s three historically black universities.

The state’s governing board reports that, to date, $145 million of the settlement money has been spent. Of the $75 million allocated for capital improvements at Jackson State University, Mississippi Valley State University, and Alcorn State University, $27.3 million has been spent. Additional monies have been used to enhance academic programs, including the establishment of an engineering curriculum at Jackson State University.

Money earmarked for two of the three universities' endowments remains in limbo. In order to access the endowment funds, the universities must achieve enrollments that are at least 10 percent nonblack for three years. By allocating scholarships to whites from Europe and elsewhere, Alcorn State has achieved this goal. But blacks continue to be more than 90 percent of all students at both Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State universities.


216  Number of black men who earned professional degrees in pharmacy in 2005.

575  Number of black women who earned professional degrees in pharmacy in 2005.

source: U.S. Department of Education


Record Black Enrollments at Kansas State University

There are 23,332 students at Kansas State University this fall, the most in the university’s history. The record enrollment includes 608 African-American students, an all-time high. Blacks make up 2.6 percent of the student body at Kansas State University.


Vassar College Professor Holds “History Harvest” on Slavery

Recently, Rebecca Edwards, a professor of history at Vassar College and chair of the Mid-Hudson Antislavery History Project, held what was called a history harvest. Residents of the community were invited to bring in letters, historical documents, photographs, and other items relating to slavery or the Underground Railroad in Dutchess County, New York. Technicians with scanners were available to make digital copies of the items on the spot so visitors to the history harvest could take their documents home with them.

There also was the opportunity to record oral history accounts relating to slavery through either audio- or videotape.



The Trials and Tribulations of Texas Southern University

Enrollments at Texas Southern University, the historically black educational institution in Houston, are at a five-year low. This fall 9,544 students enrolled. That enrollment number is a decrease of 15 percent from a year ago. In 2004 there were 11,635 students on campus. Ninety percent of the student body is black.

Rising tuition, the university’s dismally low graduation rate of 15 percent, and the announcement by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools that it is undertaking an unscheduled appraisal of the institution, which could bring its accreditation into question, all have undoubtedly hurt enrollment levels.

But a string of bad publicity has probably also played a role. As we went to press the jury was deliberating in the trial of former TSU president Priscilla Slade who is accused of spending hundreds of thousands of university dollars for personal use. Also, a videotape, widely viewed on the Internet, shows university students swatting at a swarm of bats in a TSU dormitory. One student claimed to have killed dozens of bats that had infested the building.



Getchel L. Caldwell II was appointed vice president for university advancement at Tuskegee University in Alabama. He was director of development for Clark Atlanta University.

Caldwell is a graduate of Florida A&M University and holds a master’s degree in public administration from Clark Atlanta University.

Blenda J. Wilson was named Compton Visiting Scholar at the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. Dr. Wilson was president and CEO of the Nellie Mae Foundation. She previously served as president of California State University at Northridge and chancellor of the University of Michigan at Dearborn.

Dr. Wilson is a graduate of Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. She holds a master’s degree from Seton Hall University and a doctorate in higher educational administration from Boston College.

Kecia Thomas was named senior adviser to the dean for inclusion and diversity leadership at the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Georgia. Dr. Thomas has been a member of the faculty in the university’s psychology department since 1993 and was promoted to full professor in 2006.

A graduate of Bucknell University, Dr. Thomas holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from Penn State University.

James M. Harvey Jr. was named director of public relations and information at Central Georgia Technical College in Macon. He was the director of the media center at the School of Veterinary Medicine at Tuskegee University.

Keith D. Roots was appointed director of the College Guide Program at the University of Virginia. The program places recent college graduates in high school guidance offices to help students in the college application process.

Roots was the associate director of corporate and foundation relations at the University of Virginia. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia and holds a master’s degree in educational psychology at the University of Texas. He is currently completing his doctorate in higher education at the University of Georgia.


Copyright © 2007. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. All rights reserved.